Kelley fighting to have indictment thrown out

Rep. Trey Kelley (left) stands with his attorney Lester Tate at the conclusion of a motion hearing in Polk County Superior Court on Friday, June 4, 2021.

CEDARTOWN — The attorney for state Rep. Trey Kelley argued in a hearing Friday the indictment against his client for reckless conduct in connection with a fatal 2019 hit and run should be thrown out based on the nature of his involvement and the vagueness of the indictment.

In a hearing in Polk County Superior Court before Senior Judge Steve Schuster of Cobb County, Kelley’s attorney, Lester Tate, stated that Kelley had no duty to stop and render aid following the incident in September 2019.

He is accused of not taking action after Ralph “Ryan” Dover III struck 38-year-old Eric Keais while he was riding his bicycle. Dover called Kelley, who came to the scene, but no police were alerted about the incident until over an hour later, according to prosecutors.

Kelley, a Cedartown resident and lawyer, represents all of Polk and parts of Floyd and Haralson counties. He was indicted by the grand jury in December with misdemeanor reckless conduct.

On top of arguing Kelley was not in the wrong for not rendering aid, Tate claimed the prosecution had grafted the wording in Georgia’s hit-and-run statute into Kelley’s indictment on reckless conduct, making it “constitutionally vague” in terms of what the indictment truly charges Kelley with.

“I think the application of those two rules show two things,” Tate said. “One, that Trey Kelley committed no crime here because it’s not a crime to fail to stop and render aid unless you’re a driver. And two, the prosecution can’t use the reckless conduct statute to create a crime where none exists.”

Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit District Attorney Jack Browning told the judge Kelley’s indictment is charged as party to a crime for reckless conduct.

Under Georgia law, a person may be convicted of a crime even if they do not directly commit the crime but aid or advise that person to commit the crime.

“He’s not charged with driving the vehicle. He’s not charged with hitting the person on the bicycle. He is charged with what happens afterwards,” Browning said. “The duty that that gentleman who was driving the vehicle had, and his failure to do so.”

Tate relayed the events of the evening to the court as Schuster said he had no previous knowledge of the case. Browning said that recitation of the events squared with the charges.

“In taking Mr. Tate’s facts, Mr. Dover called (Kelley) to the scene. When he got to the scene, there was a period of time during which the hit and run was never reported,” Browning said. “That’s where Mr. Kelley’s involvement comes into it.”

Both Tallapoosa Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Meng Lim and Judge Mark Murphy previously recused themselves from the case.

The incident

Keais was riding his bike on North Main Street near Frances Drive in Cedartown on the evening of Sept. 11, 2019, when he was allegedly struck by a vehicle driven by Dover.

Claiming he was unsure what he had hit, Dover continued to drive to a nearby business where he then called Kelley.

Dover and Kelley were waiting across the street from the incident location in the Dollar General parking lot in Cedartown after the incident happened, the report stated. Kelley eventually called Cedartown Police Chief Jamie Newsome, who contacted Sgt. Josh Turner to investigate.

According to prosecutors Keais was struck at 8:20 p.m., but the first police on the scene calling for ambulance and fire service didn’t occur until 9:26 p.m.

It was only after Turner arrived that Keais’ body was found in the ditch some 75 to 100 feet away from the bicycle in the roadway. Emergency medical personnel were called, and Keais was taken to the hospital where he died.

A Georgia State Patrol investigation noted “there had not only been a hit and run aspect to this (Motor Vehicle Accident/Fatality) but there was a breach in the dispatch of assistance to our victim, Eric C. Keais.”

Dover was indicted on charges of felony hit and run and reckless conduct. He is currently free on bond pending a trial.

Schuster requested that both Browning and Tate present him with proposed orders that he will consider and present his ruling at a time in the next six weeks.

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